NORMAN — Two weeks ago, Norman High senior Michael Kish was seeing limited minutes for the Tigers.
After Tuesday night’s Crosstown Clash, that seems like a long time ago. Kish came out firing for the Tigers, scoring 16 first-half points as NHS built a lead over their arch rivals from Norman North.
Kish would finish the game with 21, but the Timberwolves weathered the storm and pulled away for a 68-52 victory thanks to a dominating defensive effort in the third quarter.
“Give Norman High credit, they came out ready to play,” North coach Bryan Merritt said. “We weren’t ready to compete on the defensive end in the first half.”
NHS led 19-12 after the first quarter behind Kish’s hot shooting, but North fought back in the second quarter and eventually evened things up midway through the period. North took a two-point lead into the locker room at halftime, setting up what turned out to be a deciding third quarter.
As the Timberwolves tightened up their defense in the second half, freshman Trae Young began to take over. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then converted a driving, and-one layup to put North on top 46-36. He finished the quarter with 13 points as North held NHS to just six points in the frame, giving the T-Wolves a 58-40 lead heading into the final quarter, where North cruised to the victory that completed the season sweep for North in the Crosstown Clash.
“I liked the way our guys responded, starting in that second quarter,” Merritt said. “Trae Young had a good game for us, and I liked the way we played better defense after that first quarter.”
It was a balanced effort for No. 9 North (15-5), which had seven players score. Young led the way with 15 points, while Marcus Dickinson had 14 and Lindy Waters 13. NHS (3-14) was led by Kish, while John Michael Benardello also added nine.
“We played extremely well in the first half,” NHS coach Matt Thornton said. “We just haven’t been able to put an entire game together yet. Give them credit for making adjustments to us. I’m proud of my guys. We’re in a spot where it would be easy to fold, but they keep working every day to get better.”
The win, North’s seventh in a row, moved the T-Wolves to 15-5 on the season, with four of those losses coming in overtime or by three or fewer points. With the Clash behind them and his team playing its best basketball of the season, Merritt said that finishing the regular season on a high note is the focus for North.
“Last year my team won nine of its last 11, and that set us up for that run to the state semifinals,” Merritt said of his Chickasha team a season ago. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve been in survive-and-advance mode for the last few weeks, and being in that mode come playoffs is what matters. It wasn’t pretty tonight, but they gutted it out and won, and that’s what you have to do.”
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